Alternatives work…

July 18, 2019 –

CBC News – Emma Davie
Atlantic Canada has an enviable problem: its youth jails are emptying out

All eyes should be on Nova Scotia’s remarkable achievement:  the province has fewer than 30 inmates in its four long term youth jails.  One startling result is that one center was able to surrender over half its space to public health services.  The decline, all across the Atlantic provinces, began in 2003 with the Youth Criminal Justice Act which instructed the courts “to consider every reasonable alternative to a custodial sentence before putting a young person in jail.”  It works!

A succinct thought for advocates in the justice system from C. Leonard (Prison Reform Movement – US) This quote fits the “what oft was thought but n’er so well expressed” category.

“It is impossible to punish poverty, addiction, and mental illness out of people. We need to stop trying to seek revenge and start working on rehabilitation.”

The Marshall Project (US) – Eli Hager
My Life in the Supermax: Finger handshakes, the toilet phone, and the “shoe bomber.”

The recent news that Mexican drug king-pin El Chapo was sentenced to life plus 30 years begs the question of human rights issue on supermax prisons where solitary confinement is a way of life for all inmates.  Few ever come out of a supermax.  That fact makes this article worthwhile in itself for both the legal and moral issues in life sentences, particularly in supermax conditions.  The article is an interview with Travis Dusenbury, a 46-year-old from Lexington, N.C. who was locked up at the ADX for ten years.

Toronto Star – Nicholas Keung
Record number of Canada-bound visitors barred from flights on advice of Canada border agents

There has been a serious increase in the number of foreign visitors advised by Canada Border officials not to come to Canada.  The message is passed through the air carriers, even to people travelling from countries without visa requirements.  While alleging improper documentation, the prompting seems to come rather from a suspicion by overseas officers that the visitor may overstay or seek work.  In 2018, 7,208 visitors were impacted, compared to 2,873 in 2017 and 2,769 in 2016.  The increase, and the concern that there is no independent supervising mechanism or civilian oversight for the CBA, suggests that it is time to look more closely at the organization and the policy.   Related article:  Toronto Star – Teresa Wright, Canadian Press    Concerns mount over ‘criminalization’ of detained migrants in Canada

The Telegraph (UK) – David Gauke
It is vital we do all we can to support ex-offenders who are genuinely trying to turn a corner and live free from crime

On its face, this comment is almost self-evident.  What else would one want?  The article brings into focus the difficulty encounter by former offenders trying to turn around their lives but forced by law to reveal they are ex-offenders when pursuing job applications.  Half of potential employers say they won’t hire an ex-offender and only 17% of ex-offenders get a job within the first year of release.   Related article: UK Government Press Release – First generation of Unlocked prison officers graduate as scheme expands to north (“Unlocked is a two-year leadership programme specifically aimed at encouraging the brightest and best graduates and career changers to become prison officers.”)

Politico (US) – Jessica Pishko
How a Criminal Justice Reform Became an Enrichment Scheme – Low-level offenders can now avoid incarceration in many places by paying a fee. One official in Rapides Parish began asking who was keeping that money.

Diversion programs are commonplace in most places, offering an alternative to non-violent offenders at the discretion of the prosecutors. Rapides Parish treasurer Bruce Kelly stumble on a perversion of the diversion approach when the local prosecutor requested a budget beyond the capacity of the treasury, prompting an inquiry around income, how it was being raised, and who was getting the income.  Prison reform often confronts money raising schemes but its most powerful impact is often impoverishing poor people.   The inquiry also pointed to a far more widespread practice than just this parish.

Victoria Council on Social Services (Australia)
Five things men say to justify violence against women

In the light of the barely disguised physical threats around presidential decrees for congresswomen to “go back to their own countries,” this may be a good link to review what happens when women are subject to verbal and physical abuse, this from the perspective of people to help male offenders to confront the problem.  The link offers five frequently used excuses by males – and obstacles to their own healing – when they enact violence against women.

Florida Times Union – Jacksonville (US) – Ben Conarck
Correctional officers caught on video beating inmate at Florida prison

This link is a first not only in that it presents a disturbing misconduct on the part of five guards but also in that an apparent contraband camera was used to record and disseminate the incident.  The video – about five minutes in length and said to have been recorded on July 8 at Lake Correctional Institution in Clermont, Florida  – has already had an impact in separating the beaten inmate and restricting the contact between other inmates and the five guards identified.   Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch described it as “deeply disturbing.”

Dallas News Editorial (July 16, 2019) (US)
The debate over heat in state prisons has raged for years. Now Texas is paying the price

The increasing frequency of significant weather events is sharping the focus of how these unusual events impact the prison population, especially in the southern part of the US where unrelenting heat becomes a factor in the health of the inmates.  The editorial sees as wasteful the cost of fighting court battles while ignoring obvious solutions such as air conditioning.  In one case Texas spent $7 million to defend against a $4 million cost for A/C and had to pay both when a judge agreed the lack was cruel and unusual punishment.  In some states the personal safety issue is flooding.

Prison Policy Initiatives (US) – Wanda Bertram
Testifying before Congress about the mass incarceration of women

The prison reform is starting to draw attention to the mass incarceration of women and its impact on them and the justice system.  Legal Director for the Initiatives appeared before the House Judiciary Committee.  The stats appear to parallel those of males with the highest ratio (139 / 100,000) in the NATO countries, 5% of the world’s population but 30 % of the incarcerated women.

Toronto Star – Tess Kalinowski
How much do you need to earn to afford rent in your neighbourhood? Study breaks it down by hourly wage

Housing is a major component of all the questions around the measurement of poverty and adequate income.  This study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives asked the question in various neighbourhoods across Canada.  “The study found that a one-bedroom apartment would be affordable to full-time minimum-wage workers in only 70 of 795 Canadian neighbourhoods. A two-bedroom rental would be unaffordable in all but 24 of those neighbourhoods; that’s 3 per cent. With the exception of St. Catharines and Sudbury, all the affordable neighbourhoods were located in smaller Quebec cities.”   CCPA full report:  David MacDonald   Unaccommodating: Housing rental wage in Canada